Democrats Eye Electability In Iowa

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks about her comprehensive plan to address America's energy and environmental challenges Monday, Nov. 5, 2007, at Clipper Windpower in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Clinton called for creation of a $50 billion strategic energy fund coupled with higher fuel efficiency standards; the package, which she said was the most comprehensive effort to deal with global warming, would be financed in part by $20 billion in "green vehicle bonds."

It's exactly one year to the next election, but that's not the date most on the mind of the Democratic frontrunner.

"Gotta be ready for the 3rd!" said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

That's January 3 - the Iowa caucuses - the first votes cast. Clinton's lead in the national polls is much smaller in Iowa - six points - compared to New Hampshire, where she has a decisive lead. Iowa is the best chance for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Sen. John Edwards to stop her, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

"A big national poll doesn't mean anything," said Des Moines Register chief political writer David Yepsen. "It will evaporate overnight if somebody beats Hillary Clinton here."

The states in Iowa, coupled with Clinton's first stumbles in last week's debate, have injected a new intensity into the race.

Obama, running as an outsider and uniter, had been timid in his attacks. Not anymore.

"Yes, she's been run so far what Washington would call a textbook campaign," Obama said. "The problem I have, and the disagreement we have is the textbook itself."

Edwards has been even sharper, taking on her votes for war in Iraq, and a recent resolution targeting Iran.

"She's voting like a hawk in Washington, but talking like a dove in Iowa and New Hampshire," Edwards said on the campaign trail.

Clinton, positioning herself as the candidate of experience, is trying to seem at ease with what will be eight more weeks of sniping.

"If can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, and I'm very much at home in the kitchen, so I think I'll stick around," Clinton said.

Iraq, the economy, health care - all are important to Democrats, but if Iowa is any indication, what matters more than anything is a candidate's electability.

"People don't go around with a checklist of issues. They look at candidates as individuals," Yepsen said. "Do they like them? Do they trust them? And that's an intangible that's hard to quantify."

This time four years ago, the eventual nominee, John Kerry, was running sixth in Iowa. He came from way behind in the last few weeks.

When caucus-goers were asked why they supported him, they said, "simple. He was the most electable candidate."

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod On Twitter»

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning" and other CBS News broadcasts.